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N.J. Attorney General: Kyleigh’s Law isn’t here to stay — yet

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A partial survey by State Attorney General Paula Dow found only three reported incidents tied to the red decals that New Jersey has required probationary drivers under 21 to stick on their vehicles the past year, CLIFFVIEW PILOT has learned. It lacks important details, however.

Jerry DeMarco Publisher/Editor

Most importantly, the interim review doesn’t reflect — or even approximate — how many decals are actually being used. Nor does it say how many crashes involved teens who shouldn’t have been behind the wheel.

Informal surveys have shown as many as 90 percent of high school students ignoring “Kyleigh’s Law” and not attaching the decals, making it difficult for police to enforce the law. A formal review would put the completed findings into better context.

The interim handout — all of two pages — is also far from complete.

New Jersey’s local, county and state police departments had an extremely narrow window to assemble the data, while at the same time dealing with drastic reductions in manpower.

As one of my contacts said: “Many of the departments just couldn’t pull it all together in time.”

To her credit, Dow is reserving judgment until she gets all the numbers, sometime before the final report is due on Oct. 7. She will then recommend whether to keep or repeal the law, which went into effect May 1, 2010.

Doesn’t surprise me. I’ve known the Attorney General going on 15 years. One of her most admirable traits now, as well as when she was an Assistant U.S. Attorney — and, later, Essex County Prosecutor — is that she’s extremely deliberate. The short-term paper may have been a rush job, but the final won’t be. You can bank on it.

Assemblyman Bob Schroeder hopes she chooses to bag the stickers. For one thing, several probationary drivers statewide have said “their decals had gotten stolen but they didn’t bother replacing them or filing a police report,” he told CLIFFVIEW PILOT , after being contacted about the survey.

Several fatal accidents the past year involved teen drivers who weren’t using the stickers, he added.

“If the interim report tells us anything,” the Washington Township lawmaker said, “it’s that we’re very fortunate there haven’t been any confirmed sexual assaults or deaths tied to the decal law yet.”

The law is named after 16-year-old Kyleigh D’Alessio, a star athlete from Morris County who was killed in 2006 while riding in a vehicle driven by another teen. It was created in tandem with New Jersey’s graduated driver license (GDL) program, which prohibits young motorists from driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., with passenger restrictions, as well.

The goal — and a good one — was to reduce the number of teen-involved car accidents in New Jersey, while making the roads safer for everybody.

Indeed, “Kyleigh’s Law” it does encourage teens to drive safely, to remain attentive and to improve their skills. The courts have also deemed it constitutional.

Still, fears continue of the potential for the scarlet decals to attract predators, given that only probationary drivers under 21 must use them. Those who don’t can be fined $100.

Amid those concerns, Gov. Christie directed Dow to have a look last fall. However, he specifically narrowed the focus to “a survey of reported criminal complaints in which it is alleged that a victim was targeted as a result of displaying” a probationary driver’s license sticker.

Since no computer program was created to compile that particular information, the state Division of Criminal Justice began surveying New Jersey’s 600 or so law enforcement agencies individually. The deadline: April 7.

State Police and municipal departments were directed to notify their county prosecutors of any criminal complaints directly tied to “Kyleigh’s Law” — “including, but not limited to stalking, sexual assault, kidnapping or carjacking,” according to the interim report, a copy of which was obtained by CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

On top of that, criminal charges didn’t necessarily have to be filed for the stats to count. That’s a lot of reports to plow through….

A first round began Nov. 1, 2010, followed by a second in February. The results were by no means complete.

Three incidents in all were reported, with identifying information deleted to protect the victims’ identities:

In January, a 17-year-old girl told police she was driving a vehicle with the license decal late one afternoon when she was stopped by someone impersonating a police officer. His dark-colored vehicle had blue and white flashing lights, and he “was wearing police uniform pants and a navy blue t-shirt with POLICE in white lettering on the chest,” the report says.

She said he asked for her driver’s license and said, “I saw the sticker on your car and figured that you were a  hot 17-year-old.” She said he also asked for her phone number, which she said she didn’t give him, and that he then returned her wallet and drove off.

However, she couldn’t provide a plate number, leaving police with nothing but a claim.

In two other cases, decals were reported stolen from vehicles.

Besides not having all the necessary data collected, police can only relay what criminally-related reports they’ve received. They can’t tell you how many teens were involved in incidents but chose not to say anything, out of fear or embarrassment. They simply can’t know. The information they’re providing is, by definition, extremely limited.

With more teens dying in car crashes than from any other cause, the intent of the law is rock-solid. It’s the mandatory sticker for all probationary drivers under 21 that (literally) raises a red flag.

Nothing’s stopping the state from establishing a registry that immediately identifies probationary drivers for police, who all have laptops in their cars.

Or maybe lawmakers could require that ALL probationary drivers, no matter their age, use the decals.

While we’re at it, let’s make motorists 65 and over use them, as well.

And before you say it: That is NOT age discrimination. Ignoring for a moment the clear-cut scientific evidence (slower response time, diminished vision), the very same statistics that gave rise to “Kyleigh’s Law” show that seniors come in an extremely close second behind teens in the number of crashes.

But these are other discussions for other days.

Christie’s Oct. 7 deadline for Dow’s final report will be here soon enough.

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